The Mogul’s Car: Giovanni Agnelli’s Ferrari 375 America Coupe

Heir to the Fiat fortune, Giovanni Agnelli chose to drive this substantial coupe

by | Feb 7, 2019 | Car Profiles

Johnny Miles

The Mogul’s Car: Giovanni Agnelli’s Ferrari 375 America Coupe

Heir to the Fiat fortune, Giovanni Agnelli chose to drive this substantial coupe

by | Feb 7, 2019 | Car Profiles

Johnny Miles

First we need to know about the man: Giovanni “Gianni” Agnelli (12 March 1921 – 24 January 2003). Grandson and namesake of the founder of Fiat. Son of a princess. Wounded in combat. Playboy. Father and grandfather. Corporate leader. A fashion guru renowned for wearing this watch outside his shirt cuff.

A complex man who looked the part of Italian aristocracy. Prominent nose, permanent tan, wavy silver hair. Right out of central casting.

A Ferrari owner, of course, but not just any Ferrari. A 1955 Pinin Farina 375 America Coupe Speciale. So, what’s in a name?

Early Ferrari production cars were roughly based on the automaker’s race cars. As he got into the 1950s, those production cars took two basic routes. There were the 250s, the less (relatively) expensive chassis and coachwork. For the well-to-do clientele, Ferrari created a series with distinctive coachwork, one-offs or limited series called America and, later, Superamerica. Given the name, you can guess what Ferrari considered a major market for these supercars.

One series of 10 Ferraris was called 375 America. Three had bodies designed by Vignale, the others by Pinin Farina. The last of these was s/n 0355AL and it had the most distinctive coachwork. Gianni Agnelli’s car.

 

Giovanni Agnelli’s Ferrari 375 California Coupe has a rear windscreen that lowers framed by “flying buttress” C-pillars.

We’re used to decades of Ferraris with wide shallow grilles. Not Agnelli’s, which has a tall almost rectangular grille flanked by serious-looking head- and fog-lights that stare as though they could bore a hole through you. Clean flanks back to a rounded tail. Greenhouse edges that flow back to a pair of flying buttresses, a design feature seen on later Ferrari production cars like the 246 GT Dino. The rear window will roll down some but the transparent sunroof is fixed. Finished in dark Verde Scuro green for the body and Bordeaux red for the roof. As handsome as it is unusual. Rather like Agnelli.

There’s red leather on seats that look less like individual buckets than a bench seat split by a driveshaft tunnel. A pair of large classic Italian gauges that contain all necessary info. Wood rim steering wheel, of course, various small toggle and twist switches and a 7-day chronometric Jaeger clock forward on the tunnel that would be difficult to read at speed but looks so cool.

Those (relatively) less expensive 250s had 3.0-liter Giaocchino Colombo V-12s. For the larger and more powerful limited series, Ferrari employed the larger and more powerful sohc V-12 designed by Aurelio Lampredi. First came the 340, then 342 and finally 375.

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For these series Ferrari again chose a model number that was the displacement of one cylinder. Multiplied by the number of cylinders (a V-12 here) you get the engine’s total displacement. Hence a Ferrari 375 meant 375 cc x 12 = 4500 cc. There’s a little fudge factor here because those engines really had 4523 cc.

There’s a big fudge factor with our subject car. Despite being called a 375, it has a V-12 with 4961 cc so it is, in fact, a 410. Ferrari did a similar thing with his race cars and called them 375 Plus. One of those won the 1954 24 Hours of Le Mans. Fitted with a trio of Weber carburetors in Agnelli’s Ferrari, the V-12 was said to produce 330 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. Top speed is a claimed 150 mph for the Ferrari that weighs around 3000 pounds.

Other tech info includes a 4-speed manual gearbox. Double wishbone/coil spring front suspension while aft was a live axle on leaf springs. Large drum brakes all around matched to 16-inch Borrani wire wheels.

After a debut on Pinin Farina’s stand at the 1955 Torino Motor Show, 375 America s/n 0355AL was delivered to Agnelli. He kept the Ferrari until 1959 when it was sold in New York via Luigi Chinetti. There were six American owners of the America and in the late 1960s Chinetti bought it back again for just $3,500.

The Ferrari 375 America Coupe Speciale had a very formal front end.

In the mid-1980s, Mike Sheehan sold it to a pair a legendary Ferrari men, Charles Betz and Fred Peters in Orange, CA. After a half decade, Betz and Peters sold the car to Jack Thomas in St. Louis, and he has owned the car ever since. He used it on such events as the Colorado Grand and Copperstate 1000 in very scruffy condition. Then restored back to Agnelli form, the 375 America has won Best of Show at concours literally from coast to coast. It was a class winner at the 2003 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance with a perfect 100-point score.

Thomas appreciates the fact this car is, “A collaborative effort by Ferrari and Pinin Farina for one of Europe’s most wealthy and influential industrialists. I think it’s important to the history of Ferrari because it was the first custom coachwork owned by Agnelli, who was very important because he guaranteed the survival of Ferrari by Fiat’s infusion of cash into the company in 1969.

“I collect one-off custom coachwork Ferraris and have every type of America and Superamerica so obviously in the 375 America line this was a very important car.” Thomas mentions the flat rear window, the flying buttresses, the fact this is the first GT Ferrari to have a 4.9-liter V-12. And then adds with a chuckle, “One thing that is very important about this car is it’s very large interior. I’m 6’ 4” and I don’t fit in a lot of Ferraris but I fit in this one. It’s got a tremendous amount of room.”

And a tremendous amount of history.

 

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